Horses will return once again to the Humboldt County Fairgrounds this year, marking the 114th season of racing at the Ferndale track. This was hardly a sure thing. On Friday, the California Horse Racing Board narrowly approved a summer season racing schedule that allows Ferndale five days of non-overlapped racing (Aug. 18-22) and four days overlapped with Santa Rosa (Aug. 12-15).
Three of the seven board members, including Bo Derek (yes, that Bo Derek), opposed the schedule specifically because of the allowances it makes for "the struggling Humboldt County Fair" in "the extreme northwest portion of the state." (Ya hear that? We're extreme !)
With declining revenues, increased costs and logistical challenges, horse racing at small tracks like Ferndale has been in ever-increasing jeopardy in recent years (see Bob Doran's "Eight Days at the Races" from last summer). Trainer and owner groups didn't want to give Ferndale the week without competition because of the expense of shipping up here and our relatively low purse levels. In fact, a representative of the California Thoroughbred Trainers in Northern California called it "a recipe for disaster."
But CHRB Chairman John Harris had our back, citing Ferndale's wonderful fan following. But the bottom line appears to be this: If we want to keep the horses coming back, we better get out there this summer and lose some money.